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Hundreds of British criminals accused of money laundering or handling stolen goods could be freed from prison after judges upheld the appeals of four men accused of a £171m drugs conspiracy.

Hundreds of criminals accused of money laundering or handling stolen goods could be freed from prison after judges upheld the appeals of four men accused of a £171m drugs conspiracy.

The ruling yesterday is expected to have wider implications for similar conspiracy cases in which the Crown has failed to show that the defendant knew money or a stolen item was a proceed of a crime.

Counsel for the Crown Prosecution Service said the Court of Appeal’s judgment meant the prosecution of many current cases might have to be reconsidered.

Liaquat Ali, Akhtar Hussain and Moshan Khan were convicted at Leeds Crown Court in June 2003 of conspiracy to conceal, disguise or remove from the jurisdiction £170m proceeds of drug trafficking. The money was alleged to have been laundered through Watan Travel, a legitimate travel agency and money transfer business with shops in Bradford and Birmingham.

Ali and Hussain were each jailed for 12 years. Khan received eight years. Shahid Bhatti was sentenced to six years at the same court last October for a similar conspiracy relating to money laundering.

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